The joint intergovernmental commission of Bulgaria and North Macedonia met in Sofia on July 17, with the two countries’ foreign ministers signing a protocol afterwards that represented a further step towards making possible North Macedonia’s EU accession talks.
The protocol will form part of Skopje’s negotiating framework for EU membership.
With details yet to be announced in full, it is reported to contain new commitments to resolving disputes between the countries on matters such as history, with deadlines to fulfil these commitments and provision for the European Commission to monitor progress.
The meeting of the joint intergovernmental commission – only the second since 2019 – and the signing of the protocol of the meeting followed the July 16 vote by North Macedonia’s parliament to mandate the government to negotiate in terms of the “French proposal” to unblock the country’s path towards EU membership.
The proposal includes amending North Macedonia’s constitution to recognise a Bulgarian minority, while not requiring Bulgaria to recognise the Macedonian language.
Bulgaria’s Parliament voted on June 24 to mandate the government to proceed in terms of the “French proposal”, including conditions that Bulgaria wants addressed in talks.
Speaking after the July 17 signing, Teodora Genchovska, Foreign Minister in Bulgaria’s outgoing government, said: “Bulgaria is the country that most strongly supports the European integration of the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania.
“From here on, we wish them success on the path they have long wanted to take. I hope that with joint efforts and our support, they will reach where the citizens of North Macedonia most want to reach, namely, membership in the EU,” Genchovska said.
North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani expressed hope that relations between the two countries are heading to a new level.
“For us, it is a historic opportunity that after 17 years of candidate status, the Republic of North Macedonia can start negotiations with the EU from tomorrow and start the last phase of our accession to the EU,” Osmani said.
“We expect support from Bulgaria, because this is in our interest, apart from of the citizens of North Macedonia, Bulgaria is also interested in the accession of the Western Balkans,” he said.
A statement on the website of North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry quoted Osmani as having said on July 6 that the proposal did not interfere with identity issues, and after nearly two decades of EU candidate status, allowed for the well-deserved accession negotiations to be opened with the country.
“In light of the broader geopolitical effects that the Russian aggression against Ukraine has produced and taking into account the need for political stability and predictable development of our region, continuing our EU integration becomes that much more important,” Osmani said.
Genchovska told Bulgarian journalists after the July 17 signing: “The protocol contains extremely ambitious measures, which in practice aim to solve many of the open questions.
“This is not a document in itself, but an integral part of the package of the so-called ‘French proposal’,” Genchovska said.
She said that from now on it depends solely on North Macedonia when the country will join the EU and how long the negotiation process will last.
Genchovska said that the next steps should lead to the inclusion of Bulgarians in North Macedonia’s constitution.
Against the background of the fact that negotiations with the EU would be translated into North Macedonia’s official language, she said that Bulgaria was not backing down on its position on refusing to recognise the existence of the Macedonian language.
“Bulgaria is not backing down regarding its position on the official language of the Republic of North Macedonia,” Genchovska said.
“We are fully complying with the decision of the National Assembly, according to which Bulgaria does not recognise this language.
“In the context of the remaining 26 (EU) members, however, this is more specific – they have their positions and we cannot in any way oblige them to accept our position. However, the Bulgarian position is guaranteed in the entire negotiation framework,” she said.
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